Originally Posted by Mike Harris
July 4, 2008
A first-ever title shot can have a curious effect on a fighter's trademark sense of self-deprecating humor, propensity for practical jokes and rep for being more than a bit of a goofball.
It can make those traits disappear about as quickly as the latest upstart league trying to jump on the MMA bandwagon only to go belly up.
Just query Forrest Griffin (Pictures)'s trainers for the most important fight of his career, his title bout Saturday with reigning UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 86 in Las Vegas.
Almost to a man, they say they've never seen Griffin more serious in the gym. Griffin is always intense while training for fights, with a second-to-none monster of a work ethic, but this time out, they note, there's a new sobering sense of purpose about him.
Wanna know just how seriously purposeful? He reportedly freakin' broke Wanderlei Silva (Pictures)'s nose during sparring a few weeks back. Now that's serious (more on that later).
"I'll tell you, getting ready for this fight, because of ‘The Ultimate Fighter' TV show, I've seen a more serious Forrest Griffin coming through the door," said Shawn Tompkins (Pictures), Griffin's MMA coach at Xtreme Couture.
Griffin and Jackson were opposing coaches on the SpikeTV show's recently concluded seventh season, which saw Griffin fighter Amir Sadollah besting Jackson fighter CB Dollaway (Pictures) in the June 21 finale to be crowned the Ultimate Fighter and win one of Dana White's highly touted six-figure UFC contracts. Naturally there were tensions and even some flare-ups between the rival coaches, though not nearly to the degree of some previous seasons, most notably the hugely entertaining hate-fest between Tito Ortiz (Pictures) and Ken Shamrock (Pictures).
"Not that I'm saying Forrest is taking it as a personal vendetta or anything," Tompkins continued, "but he knows he's in for a big fight and there's no goofing around. Even in his previous camps, he was just such a carefree guy. But I see in this camp, he's taking this one to heart. He comes in and does his job -- just like it is a job -- and he leaves without leaving anything in the gym. I just have to say I've known Forest for probably four years now since he's been out here, and he's a real serious guy when it comes to this fight.
"He's gonna prove that not only did he coach 90 percent of the guys on his ‘Ultimate Fighter' team to win, but that he's gonna win this title." (Oddsmakers disagree, making Griffin a heavy underdog.)
Ron Frazier, one of Griffin's boxing coaches at Xtreme Couture, agreed with Tompkins' assessment of the new, no-nonsense Griffin.
"I've been with Forrest probably the longest of all the coaches and yeah, he's definitely shown a new focus," Frazier said. "When I first started training Forrest, Forrest was a guy who would fight anyone and he didn't worry about winning or losing. And now he's a guy who's like, ‘Yeah, I can go out there and be champion.' And because of that, we've seen a newfound focus and a newfound dedication to his sport to really go out there and win.
"So yes, he's all business. He's very focused on his game plan. And doing the things he knows he's capable of doing. He realizes a championship is within his grasp and it's something he wants to do. He feels confident that he can win this fight and become champion."
Tompkins said Griffin has trained at three different gyms daily, ending up at Xtreme Couture five days a week for 4-6 p.m. sessions.
"I'd have to say he's working out no less than six hours a day every day," Tompkins said. "Between his strength and conditioning, his technical jiu-jitsu, his technical Thai boxing, and then putting it all together here: his technical with his standup and his ground game. The main thing we work on is live training -- sparring, grappling, putting it all together and being able to spar with the small gloves as well."
Added Tompkins: "We all know Forrest is a workaholic, but he's been real healthy, so that's a key with a guy like him."
"There's nobody that works harder in the gym than Forrest does, ever," said Xtreme Couture's namesake owner, MMA legend Randy Couture (Pictures), who also is helping train Griffin for Jackson. "As far as sparring goes, he's wide open. Not that he lacks control, but he just goes very hard all of the time. The unsuspecting partner that doesn't know that or has never gone with Forrest before is going to be in for a rude awakening.
"He's been that way since I first met him and watched him spar and train on the show. That was one of my rubs with him in the first season of ‘The Ultimate Fighter,' that he was a little out of control," said Couture, who, along with Chuck Liddell (Pictures), coached on the debut season of the show. "In the training environment, people are going to get hurt."
Fighter Gray Maynard (Pictures), who has sparred with Griffin at Xtreme Couture, said Griffin stepped up his training intensity for this fight so much so that he broke Silva's schnozzola during sparring shortly after The Axe Murderer made devastatingly quick work of Keith Jardine (Pictures) at UFC 84 on May 24.
"The last several weeks, he's just gone so freakin' hard," Maynard said, noting that while he didn't actually witness Griffin breaking Silva's nose, he knows it to be true. "He's going through people. KOing people in practice. Breaking people's noses. I'm like, ‘Damn, man, you're freakin' ready to go."
Noted Frazier: "I'm not sure where Wanderlei was when he got his nose broken, but it could definitely have been when he was in there with Forrest for sure."
Without commenting on Silva's reported busted-up nose at the hands of Griffin, Couture said, "We get guys like [Ronaldo] ‘Jacare' [de Souza] and Wanderlei in there, that again, are pretty wide-open guys, and they end up in groups with Forrest and sparks are going to fly. People just stop and watch cause it's a full go.
"We'll do five or six rounds of sparring," Couture said, "then a warm-down and he's grabbing someone else to grapple or grabbing me to wrestle. He wants to go more. He's pretty much worn out every guy that would be willing to go. He's had days when he's had his strength coach meet him in there at the end of practice. It's ridiculous."
A first-ever title shot is all the motivation a fighter should need, right?
Absolutely, said fighter Rory Singer (Pictures), one of Griffin's closest and oldest friends in the game.
"I mean, it's the most important fight that he's had in his already stellar career," Singer said. "He's got a five-rounder for the first time and a super-tough opponent and so, you know, he doesn't mess around with any of his fights and especially not this one."
Said Tompkins: "He's ready for a ten-rounder."
"He seems to be all business," noted fighter John Alessio (Pictures), who also trains at Xtreme Couture. "He just comes into the gym and gets his workout on and then you see him leave. Not much clowning around going on right now. If you catch him on a good day, you might see him smile. But other than that, he's all business."
"I don't know if his training is more intense than normal, but I mean he's more serious. You don't get all the joking that he normally does, but when it's training time, Forrest didn't joke anyway. It was like before and after you would see that side of him. But no funny anecdotes this time. Not from Forrest. Maybe from some other clowns in the gym," Frazier said chuckling, "but not from Forrest. Not this time."
So Shawn, you wouldn't want to tell us what Griffin's game plan for Rampage is by any chance, would you?
"Same game plan Forest always has," Tompkins said, without missing a beat. "Go in there and beat him up. But definitely, we've trained specifically for Quinton. And put a game plan together. We can't really release what that is. But as great a fighter as Quinton is, there are weaknesses in his game."
Griffin told the UFC's "Countdown to UFC 86" preview, airing on Spike this week, that he plans to use his height and reach advantages to tie Jackson up in the clinch and pound him with knees and elbows.
Whether Griffin's plan of attack will be able to exploit Jackson's perceived weaknesses to the point that he'll be crowned the UFC's new light heavyweight champion should become clear sometime after 9 p.m. Vegas time Saturday.